At least 23 migrant workers travelling in a truck on their way home have been killed in a collision in northern India, the latest tragedy amid a humanitarian crisis caused by a nationwide lockdown imposed to try and slow the spread of coronavirus.
Another 35 were injured when the vehicle crashed into a parked truck on a highway near a roadside eatery in the Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh state, Abhishek Singh Meena, the top district official, said on Saturday.
The workers mainly hailed from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Local villagers were the first to reach the site and help the victims.
“The injured have been rushed to hospital where condition of several people is said to be critical,” Singh was quoted as saying by the Reuters News Agency.
Tens of thousands of labourers have been walking home from India’s key cities after losing their jobs in recent weeks because of the lockdown.
India locked down its 1.3 billion citizens almost seven weeks ago in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, sparking a crisis for the hundreds of millions of Indians that rely on daily wages to survive.
With no work – and little public transport – many urban migrants attempting to return to their home villages have set out on gruelling journeys on foot, or hitching rides in the back of trucks.
‘Walking all night’
Dozens of migrant workers have fallen ill or died on their way home, either from fatigue or in accidents, underscoring the extreme risks the poor have been exposed to under measures to stop the spread of the illness.
The latest incident came days after six migrants workers walking to their homes in Bihar were crushed to death by a speeding truck in Muzaffarnagar, also in Uttar Pradesh. Three others sustained serious injuries. The driver was arrested.
Last week, 16 migrant workers, who had fallen asleep on a railway track due to exhaustion from walking for an extended period of time, were crushed by a train in Maharashtra.
“They had been walking all night, they were exhausted and fell asleep on the tracks,” a police officer said at the time.
On Friday, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered bureaucrats and police officers across the state to arrange buses and taxi cabs to ferry migrants back to their hometowns. No one should walk, cycle or travel by trucks, he said.
In the face of public pressure, the government has also organised special trains and buses to transport migrant labourers home. On Thursday, it said more than a million people had reached their home states by train.
Coronavirus infections in India crossed 85,000 on Saturday, surpassing China, though officials credited the lockdown for slowing the contagion.
Meanwhile, Indian state and federal governments have provided additional funds to feed and house migrants.